Most of the ancient systems of yoga aimed at personal salvation of the individual in a timeless and transcendent Beyond.  But is this the highest aim of yoga or is there something beyond personal salvation?  This article is a reappraisal of the aims of ancient yoga in the light of wider, evolutionary perspectives emerging in the new horizons of yoga.

What is Yoga?

The  word  Yoga is now a very well-known and popular term  all  over  the world.   But except for a few deep and discerning thinkers on the subject  the true  meaning and aim of what is called as “Yoga” is not fully  understood  by the  popular mind or even by the thinking intelligentia who talks  and  writes about  it.   The popular  understanding of Yoga is  confined  to  the  narrow province of hatha-yogic asanas and pranayama or at the highest,  “meditation”.  The  moment  we  come  across  the word “Yoga”  or  “Yogi”  the  images  which spontaneously  raise  in  our mind are someone doing asanas  or  pranayama  or sitting  cross legged in meditation with closed eyes.  Those who are a little bit more well-versed in the Indian religious and spiritual lore understand the word  yoga  to mean union with the Divine, or God or union of  the  individual Soul  with the Universes Soul.  Among this last category of people, a few  who have  a  deeper understanding of the Indian vedanthic philosophy,  Yoga  means conscious  union  or  conscious  identity with our  own  highest  eternal  and universal  Self.  Yoga for the Indian vedanthin is the path for the realisation of  the highest  spiritual aim of life which is the discovery of the supreme truth  of the identity of the individual I with the Universal I.  Here we come close  to a  scientific, psychological and spiritual understanding of Yoga.

Yoga is  the psychological  and  spiritual methods  of  self-discipline,  self-exploration, self-development  and self-knowledge.  It is an adventure of consciousness, a voyage  in  the  inner space of our own being, an  exploration  of  our  inner cosmos.   It  is also a path of self-development because an  increasing  self-knowledge  leads  to  an increasing awareness and  activation  of  the  hidden potentialities, powers and faculties of the deeper, higher and inner layers of our  being. The ultimate aim of yoga is to pass out from the  ordinary  mental consciousness  revolving around the separative ego-centric individuality  into the spiritual consciousness of our own highest, egoless, universal and eternal Self  and  manifest  the light, power and values of this higher  self  in  the individual  and  collective life. This is in essence the highest aim  of  yoga conceived and attempted in the ancient Indian spiritual tradition.  All  yogic systems  of India did not have this highest aim nor is this aim  expressed  in the  same  language.   For  example manifestation  of  the  psychological  and spiritual powers of consciousness is not a conscious aim in most of the Indian Yogic  system of India.  The way of approach and the language and  terminology of expression may differ sharply among various systems of Yoga.  In the Indian puranic system it is theistic, religious and mythological; in the vaishnava yoga it is devotional, poetic and symbolic, in Rajayoga and Buddhism it is  non-theistic, scientific  and  psychological;  in  Githa and Tanthra  it  is  intuitive, synthetic  and spiritual.   Whatever may be the differences in the method and  language,  all systems of Indian yoga agree in principle on two fundamental truths; first  on the existence of an eternal, infinite and timeless Reality, Consciousness  and Power  beyond mind as the ultimate essence, ground, depth, source and self  of the  individual and the universe; and second, the ultimate aim of life  is  to realise conscious union of the individual soul with this supreme Reality which is its source.

The Evolutionary Aim of Yoga

We  have travelled far from the ordinary popular conceptions of Yoga  and arrived  at  a much deeper understanding of the aim of yoga.   But  there  are still certain fundamental question which remain unanswered even by this deeper vision  of Yoga. What is the evolutionary significance of Yoga?  Is the spiritual consummation of the individual the whole and entire aim of  Yoga? What  is  the  aim  and purpose which yoga serves  in  the  evolution  of  the individual and collectivity?

There is no clear answer to these questions in ancient Indian Yoga.   But without a clear understanding of this evolutionary aim Yoga, it will remain as a  freak  and  isolated  mystic phenomenon  or  endeavour  pursued  by  some exceptionally gifted souls without any relation to the rest of human endeavour or  life  as a whole.  Here comes the importance of the  teachings  of  modern exponents  of  Yoga like Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo.   It  was  Swami Vivekananda who first brought to the front the evolutionary aim of Yoga in the individual.   Yoga, according to the Swami, is compressed evolution.  It is  the systematic method of self-discipline bywhich the psycho-spiritual evolution of the  individual  can  be quickened.  What may take many  centuries  when  left entirely  to  the  slow and subconscious process of the  ordinary  methods  of evolutionary nature, is sought to be achieved in Yoga in a few years by a  willed and  systematic methods of conscious inner self-development and  concentration of energies.  But even in Swami Vivekananda’s teachings the collective aim  of Yoga  in  the  humanity  as  a whole  still  remains  unclear.   Only  in  Sri Aurobindo’s  evolutionary vision of Yoga the individual and collective aim  of Yoga is revealed with a crystal clear clarity, comprehensiveness and precision.

The Yoga of Nature

According to Sri Aurobindo, the entire evolutionary history of Earth is a vast yoga of Nature  trying to  unite with her own eternal Being through a progressive  self-manifestation of  her potentialities from the inconscience of Matter, vital response of  the plant  life, sense-conscious life and mind of the animal and arriving  at  the self-conscious  rational  mind  of  Man.   This  Yoga  of  Nature,  which  was proceeding  through  a subconscious process in her  material,  biological  and animal phases of her terrestial evolution, with the advent of conscious  Mind, acquires  the  possibility of becoming fully self-conscious in Man.   But  the self-conscious  rational  mind  is not the highest self  or  highest  possible potentiality in Man.  The next step in Nature’s evolutionary march is towards  a  gradual  unveiling  of  the true and highest  self  in  man  as  a superconscious spirit beyond Mind.  Man, the present epitome of Nature, is her self-conscious  thinking  instrument  and laboratory in whom  and  with  whose conscious  consent and collaboration, Nature is experimenting with  her  third supreme and inevitable step in her evolutionary march: to manifest and deliver the  veiled  spirit in the thinking and living matter. Only in  mysticism  and spirituality,  or  in other words, in the lives and realisation of  the  great spiritual personalities, this higher evolutionary aim of Yoga becomes more  or less  a conscious self-directed process.

The lives and realisation  of  great mystics  and  yogis of the world represent the Nature’s attempts  in  her  few exceptional  individual instruments to exceed her collective  realisation  and reveal  a glimpse to the mankind of her higher and future  possibilities.   So, the  mystic and the yogi is not a spiritual freak of Nature, but a  specialist and a pioneer  laboratory inwhich Nature had tested and experimented  with  her future possibilities.  The aim of the yoga of Nature in the individual is,  as we  have said already, to quicken the evolution of the individual by  a  rapid and  concentrated application of her normal universal evolutionary process  — which  proceeds  in a leisurely process through aeonic periods with a  lot  of apparent  waste  —  working through a quick  illumination,  purification  and energisation  of  all the levels of his being.  Through the process  of  Yoga, Nature reveals to Man, all the parts  and planes, the heights and depths and the truths and laws of  his  own self, her evolutionary plan, purpose process and goal in the universe and  the higher  truths  and laws of her own eternal and transcendent being  beyond  the universe.   Thus  through yoga, Nature aims to make Man  the  fully  conscious master of all the depths and heights of his own being and  conscious  collaborator in her  cosmic  or  terrestial  evolutionary endeavour.   When  this happens, that is, when the universal  yoga  of  nature becomes fully conscious in the individual and conterminous with his individual yoga, then we can say with perfect justification all life is yoga.

But  very few among the spiritual traditions of world had a clear  vision of  the  goal or purpose of the universal evolutionary aim of Nature  in  man.  Most  of the spiritual traditions of the world conceived the ultimate  purpose of  life  as  a rejection of life and an emergence of the  soul  in  the  pure timeless existence of the spirit. Then why at all the spirit should create the world  or the human soul should forget its true nature or home and  fall  into the  ignorance?   It  is rather philosophically clumsy  and  revolting  to  our intuition  to conceive that the Spirit created this world or the  human  souls descended into this universe inorder to realise the blunder or futility of its action  and return back to its source.  What is the purpose of this fall  into ignorance,  falsehood, death, suffering and evil and the  apparently  hopeless struggle against them and the heroic attempts of the higher elements in man to understand  and overcome them under and heavy odds and the straining of  these nobler  elements in man for heavenly verities? Whether all these are  only  to awaken  the soul of man to the futility of life and make him abandon life  and turn  to the spirit or is there a greater purpose behind it? According to  Sri Aurobindo the great adventure of the soul in space and time and history is not just an idiot’s tale but conceals a deep purpose of the spirit.  A  great spiritual gain is waiting for the human soul when it finally  emerges out after passing through ignorance.  The soul emerges as a “godhead greater by the  human fall” spiritually enriched by a cosmic experience in Time which  it would not have had if it remained in its timeless altitudes.

Even  apart  from this philosophical consideration when  we  examine  the course of human evolution with a discerning eye we can find that Nature  never functions  through a process of rejection but by a process of  transfiguration, inclusion and integration.  When Nature evolved Life from Matter, she did  not  reject matter but created living Matter by a transfiguration of the energy and substance  of Matter by the Life-energy and integrating Life and Matter  in  a new equilibrium or syntheses.  In a similar way, when mind emerged from  life, again Nature did not reject matter and life but created a thinking and  living matter through a further transformation of the energy and substance of  living matter  by the emerging light and energy of mind and creating a  still  higher level  of  integration of the matter, life and mind.  There is no  reason  why Nature should change her evolutionary logic in her future progress.  Here next supreme step in evolution, if we follow the evolutionary logic of Nature,  has to  be  to  create or rather manifest a supramental being or  a  god  made  of superconscious living matter.  This means a supreme and perfect integration of the  body,  life, mind and spirit in a divine harmonic whole inwhich  each  of these  member of our individual self-functions spontaneously according to  the deepest  truth  and law of its being, without interfering with that  of  other members  but in harmony with them, under the supreme and direct  guidance  and control of the supreme Self and Spirit.

Towards the Kingdom of God on Earth

But  the  transformation of a few individuals is not the aim  of  Nature.  The  aim  of  Nature in this great terrestial  evolutionary  endeavour  is  to generalise  the possibility of this integral spiritual transformation for  the whole race.

So,  a  Yoga  which aims at a total and  conscious  participation  in  the evolutionary  endeavour  of Nature, individual  liberation  or  transformation cannot  be  the  goal.   The  liberated and  transformed  soul  lives  in  the consciousness  of integral union with the super-nature of the Spirit.  One  of the  fundamental  laws  of this supernature is  Unity,  an  indivisible  Unity manifesting  in  an infinite Diversity.  So, the liberated soul who  lives  in this  consciousness  of unity feels the entire universe as a part of  his  own self  and an intimate oneness in mind, and life and even in the body with  all the beings in the universe.  Such a soul cannot remain satisfied with its  own solitary salvation.  For how can I enjoy a solitary bliss when a large part of my  own  self  in others is languishing in the hell  of  ignorance,  evil  and sorrow?  This is probably the central spiritual intuition or experience behind the Mahayana Buddhism and the great vow of Amithava Buddha who resolved not to enter into pari nirvana until the last living being in the world is  liberated from suffering and ignorance.

This  then  is  the evolutionary aim of yoga.  For  the  individual,  the higher aim of Yoga is not personal salvation, but to become a free, liberated, illumined  and  divinised  instrument  of  the  divine  self  and  spirit  and participate consciously in the evolutionary endeavour of our universal  Mother in  the  collective  redemption  of the human race.   Such  a  yogi  becomes  a conscious  instrument of the spirit for the progressive manifestation  of  the divine  will in the universe and a pure, flawless and radiant channel  of  the Spirit.    The  collective  aim  of  Yoga  is  an  uplifting  ascent  of   the consciousness  of  humanity from its present condition of  ego-centric  mental consciousness  towards an egoless, universal and supramental consciousness;  and as a result a transfiguring descent of the light, love and power of the spirit into  the physical, vital and mental life of man; remoulding human life in  the image of the Divine, or in other words the long awaited Millennium, the kingdom of God on Earth.

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